In conversation: Wolfgang Bern, Director of Operations and CEO of Local Motors Berlin GmbH
For Wolfgang Bern, Director of Operations and CEO of Local Motors Berling GmbH, innovative mobility concepts are the future. He has no doubt about it, though he considers many of them to be pure theory at this point in time. Although some are political talking points, in reality, they will remain difficult to implement in the foreseeable future: “Anyone who believes that cities like New York or London are simply going to switch their entire infrastructure to intelligent solutions overnight is bound to be disappointed. At the same time, that does not mean that we should not be starting to work on implementing such concepts in reality right now – after all, they are anything but pipe dreams. What we need at this juncture are new, specific areas that are designed for this type of mobility from the outset.”
And this is precisely the strategy he is pursuing with Local Motors. Innovative mobility concepts are implemented directly at the locations where they are needed via co-creation, 3D printing and micro-factories. Through this approach, the technology company is breaking with the conventions of the automotive industry. While the conventional development phase of a vehicle usually takes seven years, ‘Olli’, a self-driving electric vehicle, was developed into a drivable vehicle over a period of just six months – in part with the support of STAR COOPERATION.
On the move: At Frankfurt Airport, we met Wolfgang Bern, Director of Operations and CEO of Local Motors Berlin GmbH.
Olli’s secret for success
And this is far from being the only remarkable thing about the autonomous bus, which also communicates intelligently with its environment. Just as innovative as the technology itself is the idea that gave rise to its creation and production. Designed by an online community, it emerged from a Germany-wide competition as the best of more than 80 ideas on mobility concepts of the future.
The question as to why Olli found its way to the top of the winners’ podium can easily be answered, according to Wolfgang Bern: “I think Olli’s secret for success, beyond its forward-looking technology, is its human character. That might sound odd at first, but it makes a lot of sense upon closer inspection. Neither its design nor its dimensions correspond to those of a conventional vehicle. With its 2-by-4-meter frame as well as front and rear aprons that resemble a smiley face, Olli certainly stands out. You might even say that it looks cute. This is also the reason why the version we built is 98 percent the same as the original design.”
In order to stay within the unusual production time frame, it was necessary to find flexible partners and service providers who would be able to cope with any eventuality. In search of a supplier for wiring harnesses, Wolfgang Bern ultimately found our experts in electronics. “When STAR initially asked me to drive from Hamburg to Sindelfingen, I was somewhat sceptical at first. It is a principle of mine to not believe any salesman who tells me that something is no problem. But at STAR, it was actually the case for once. The workshop in Sindelfingen, not to mention the – and I mean this in a positive sense – off-the-wall approach of the STAR employees convinced me immediately,” laughs Wolfgang Bern. For him, the most important thing is to work together with people who believe in their ability to make the impossible possible.
Production by doing
“The more I had to do with medium-sized companies, the more excited I was about them. Many times, the major players are not able to act quickly enough. Moreover, the automotive industry works in different cycles than we would need to implement our mobility concepts. In many cases, we are looking for a particular product. When we find it, it often turns out that it will not be on the market for another two years. But I need it in two weeks from now. That has often led to the need to restructure. We are a production-by-doing sort of operation – you have to be able to deal with setbacks. And STAR keeps up with us!”
When looking for a supplier for wiring harnesses, Wolfgang Bern found our experts.
Safety is paramount
When asked about the safety of the new mobility concepts, Wolfgang Bern is realistic: “The fact is that the relationship between availability and safety has to be right. The technology still has not reached that level of maturity that would enable us to convert the transportation concept from one day to the next. For example, today there are no sensors that can detect even very small objects. And then you have the fact that driving has to be looked at in a very individual light. If there are autumn leaves, a brick or even a child on the road, a person can recognize that and make a decision: drive around it or hit the brakes. Olli simply detects an obstacle and hits the brakes. Safety is the first priority.
This sensitive distinction naturally has to be learned. But the greatest challenge will be to change people’s thinking. In this day and age, humanity has a hard time dealing with deceleration.” Managing these changes will undoubtedly be one of the greatest challenges for the automotive industry. The process has now begun. The first Olli models have been ‘brought to life’ with our wiring. Things will certainly continue to be exciting, both for Local Motors and STAR COOPERATION, which will remain involved in this field in the years to come.